Five years ago Saanich council likely would’ve given the green light to a 16-home subdivision on protected agricultural land. But times – and priorities – certainly have changed.
A request to exclude a 1.64-hectare parcel of land was rejected unanimously Monday night by a council that called the proposed project “repugnant” and “offensive.”
“This is borne out of 1980s development,” said Coun. Dean Murdock of the single-family lots, straight out of suburbia. “Our regional growth strategy would find this issue repugnant.”
Recently adopted official community plans (OCP) set goals for the future of Saanich, including the promotion of high density projects in urban areas and food security through farming. Neither of those issues were addressed in the proposal, submitted by the Alberg family, who have owned the land for decades.
“It all hinges on what our values are,” Coun. Susan Brice said. “For us to support the removal of land from the ALR it would have to be such a compelling argument (and be) for the greater good of our community … not the development of more houses.”
A dozen neighbours of the property, at 1516 Mount Douglas Cross Rd., spoke against taking the land out of the ALR. Despite the findings of an agrologist, hired by the applicant, who reported that the soil on the site is of poor quality, many speakers were adamant the land still be used for farming.
“It’s been farmed in the past,” said neighbour Pat Summers, who has a background in agricultural. “Yes, it’s not being farmed. Does that mean they couldn’t farm it in the future? No. You might not be able to plant potatoes, but you can also amend the soil. There’s lots of things that can happen.”
Councilors agreed with neighbours’ sentiments that the agrologist’s findings that “the sustainability of agricultural activity is generally poor” and “the exclusion of this isolated parcel from the ALR is not to have adverse impacts on … agricultural operations” doesn’t tell the whole story.
“These decisions rely heavily on the science, the history, and the policy surrounding the property,” Mayor Frank Leonard said. “We have standards to keep, so my recommendation is that we, essentially, get a second opinion.”
His concern is that there are a handful of similar small properties remaining in the municipality that are surrounded by residences, but have yet to come forward to be excluded from the ALR. He anticipates they will all eventually be brought before council.
Leonard asked staff to look at policy in dealing with these remaining properties to ensure the most accurate information is being given to councillors.
“Farming and local food production has changed. To say it’s too small or it’s not feasible in today’s reality is not true,” Coun. Judy Brownoff said. “I have problems relying just on the agrologist. We need more information, more policy and more third party analysis.”
Despite staff’s recommendation that council approve the exclusion of land from the ALR, the application failed. Staff will now look at other options for council to receive more thorough information on agricultural land use.